Showing posts with label churches. Show all posts
Showing posts with label churches. Show all posts

Thursday, May 4, 2023

Spiritual Formation - Blogging Assignment


I know I have mentioned this before, but I am taking online seminary courses with the goal of becoming a military chaplain someday (soon I hope). Honestly, I need to review old posts more often … I noticed that I used the same picture twice in different blog entries! I’ll go back and fix that someday. But, as part of one of my classes this semester we have been reading Ecologies of Faith in a Digital Age by Stephen and Mary Lowe. Our assignment this week was to write 1,000 words on that book and my own experiences as if it were for an online blog. Well, as I have a blog that I run and write for occasionally I figured I’d just write it here for you to read and share.

There are three different point for this post: 1) Two concepts about spiritual formation that I’ve found in the textbook that I need to incorporate into my life and ministry. 2) An outline of a plan of action to implement those areas into my life and ministry. And 3) a piece of advice from the other text Surviving and Thriving in Seminary for other seminary students to help them continue to grow in the faith while enrolled in seminary. As I have a fairly established format of informality I’ll continue that and of course I will share one of my favorite photos (hopefully not a duplicate this time) as I always do.

Ecologies of Faith Points

1) Two points from Ecologies of Faith in a Digital Age that I need in my life: Well, one of the saddest points that I feel is missing from many ministries today is the lack of seeing ourselves as the Body of Christ (1 Cor 12:27; Eph 4:16; chapter four from the book). Why are we so independent (particularly here in the US)? I know it’s very much a cultural thing. I’ve studied some intercultural communication and one of the ideas that stood out to me is how independent people of the West tend to be. Even hinting at communal living and relating can lead to one being labeled a communist (which is worse, in the US, than being a heretic, or maybe the same). The fact is the church as described in Acts is described as very communal (Acts 4:32). This verse (and others) don’t seem very capitalistic! We seem to have been infected with the disease of self-sufficiency, but in reality we’re all reliant on God and in many ways, others, to live and do anything. Why do we seem to only care about ourselves both in our day-to-day lives and in our church lives? This is not Paul’s image (or the image from the textbook). We are a body. Sure, we don’t have to have all the parts, but imagine saying, “nah, I’m good, I don’t need both my eyes today,” and going about as if we don’t need others in our church or we ourselves are needed in our churches. Everyone is important and everyone needs to play a part; there should be no Pareto Principle in our churches!

Secondly, and this if from the very next chapter, I need to personally open myself up to digital spiritual formation. I have been going to online college for several years now, maybe I’ve grown tired of it? Maybe I’m not involved with the right online communities? It’s been very tough for me lately with this because an important part of my life, the Christian Apologetics Alliance and I have parted ways. I was trying to get the community back on track as being a premier online community of Christian apologists and be more active, but when my leadership was challenged, I decided it wasn’t the place for me. I don’t feel comfortable trying to lead a group that thinks I am not fit to lead them. Maybe it was just one vocal person, maybe I’m overreacting, I don’t know. But, I left what was the most meaningful and important (to me) online social groups for discipleship. I feel like something is missing in online relationships. Maybe it‘s just me being jaded about leaving that group, but I don’t feel any online connection with anyone, well, hardly anyone anymore. I would like to say that I’m using the time I used to spend on online relationships on more in-person engagement but not really. I’ve fallen behind in my classwork, I’ve not really been able to establish any better relationships in-person, and in general I’ve not been having a good last couple months. I pray that I’ll find some way to connect with someone soon and that I can get back into good relationships both in person and online. Right now, I’m in a desert and I don’t really see any way out.

Plan of Action

2) My plan of action! Well, I love the line from the Avengers movie from Iron Man, “I have a plan, attack.” All that to say, well, I don’t have a plan. I guess I need to build one. First off, I think prayer would be the best place to start. I need to pray about better online (and in-person) communication and community. Spiritual formation definitely can take place online, I need to find the right community for it. Secondly, I need to find a better online resource for my spiritual gift(s), teaching. I have an in with a guy that runs an online seminary-level education website and I’ve discussed working with him. Unfortunately, the internship that I have to do as a capstone class will not accept an internship there with him. I have to find a place in a church to intern. Fortunately, as my church has a good relationship with Randy at the Global Pastor Institute, I’m fairly sure that some of my intern work will be in coordination with him as that would support my church and I would be able to support that ministry.

Advice for Seminary Student

3) What advice would I give to someone just getting started in seminary? Well, there’s a variety of things I would like to say to such a person. First off, in the vein of the topic of online Christian discipleship, don’t be like me and my situation right now. Keep a good cloud of witnesses around you (Heb 12:1), both in your church and online. Find a good small group or something similar if your church is too large or impersonal. Another tip would be to read a book like I mentioned above, Surviving and Thriving in Seminary. It gives great tips on getting through seminary, which can be broken down into three main categories (the different sections of the book). Prepare yourself. There are various ways to prepare yourself, but the more you prepare for seminary, the better you’ll be set up for success. Secondly, manage your time and energy well. This can take come preparation, but the better you manage your time and energy the more you’ll succeed. This is particularly important for someone like me who also has a full-time job and family to deal with. Balancing time spent on classes, work, and family can be tough, but is essential for success. One of the tools I use is time off work. Every semester I try to take off a few days near the end of the semester so I can be sure to get everything done. Unfortunately, that means that many times I am late on other assignments throughout the semester, but I make sure that everything gets done so that I don’t have any unfinished tasks by the end. The third tip in the book and the last for this entry is develop study skills. This too can be part of preparation, but don’t neglect this part of your studies. God will help you through this! Many others have gone before you and you can make it through too.

My son’s dog, Shadow, longing to chase squirrels.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Church Shopping ...

So here I am ... sitting in a church service (I won't name the church because I don't want to defame the church), and I'm hit by various disappointments. Those of you that are 30+ years old and raised in the church (particularly in Baptist/conservative churches) probably remember what I grew up in when it comes to church services. When I was young, we always sang with the hymnal. In fact, it was a big deal when we started adding praise songs to the service. Even then, when we started adding praise songs, they were still in a book. Then it was another huge step to add slides (bring back the nostalgia, the slides were transparencies on an overhead projector). The praise song books were still available and most of the songs were still sung out of the hymnal. Don't get me wrong, modern praise and worship music can be rather beautiful, and I love the integration of my old favorite hymns into newer songs (and one of the songs this morning did just that). Really, I don't think it's the music that bothers me; it's more that the spectacle of it all that makes me feel uncomfortable. It's a stage (not an altar) and the stage is lit like a concert stage. The words are on two giant screens with cool, moving backgrounds. The ambience is more like a really tame rock concert, not that of a church.

Then, it got worse ... Well, I wouldn't say "worse," just not the atmosphere I want or really think of when I think "church." I knew this was a multi-location church, their website says as much. But I went to, what I thought was, the main church building. But no, the music was live, and there was announcements, but then a screen dropped on stage, the lights dimmed and the pastor appeared on a giant screen on stage. Why? I understand that the pastor is only one guy (and the message was good, a hard-hitting application of James 3), and he can't be in multiple locations at the same time. But, could this be done better? It's confusing, because it looks like he was videotaped giving the message on a similar stage, but where is he? I feel so disconnected. When a church gets so big it can't fit in one building, why not split up and make multiple churches!? If a church gets too big for two buildings (this particular church has, I think, four or five buildings), why not make many churches. Surely the huge congregation can afford to pay multiple pastors. This church is so large it not only has multiple locations, but it has multiple services!

The overall feel, because of the stage-performance-style praise and worship session, the video-broadcasted sermon, the drive-by-style communion, and just how it seemed like everyone left immediately after the service, was that of a shopping mall church. Stop in, get your deals, buy your Christianity for the week (not that they emphasized the offering, on the contrary, they just had a box in the back of the auditorium). It doesn't feel like anyone knows anyone else or that they want to get to know newcomers, though the pastor encouraged visitors to go to the visitors' desk to get a free gift (a t-shirt) multiple times. It's almost like they relegated interpersonal relationships to a specific welcome-table. The service didn't feel like people coming together to worship God and get to know one another.

One last thing that bothers me about many (not just this church) Sunday morning services. When I was young Sunday morning services consisted of Sunday School (for adults and kids, separately), then regular worship services. I don't know, but there's just something special about a church that seeks to educate its congregation. When did we go from churches that seek to educate in small group settings, then worship corporately, then engage with each other in person? Maybe that's boring? I'm not trying to say that the "old way" is better. Rather, I want to draw attention to things I don't like about the "new way" and see if we can have the best of both ways. Can we educate and have authentic relationships in a fun, creative environment?